Sustainable fashion isn’t just for big, fancy luxury brands like Stella McCartney and Salvatore Ferragamo — or even juggernaut fast-fashion label H&M — anymore. Under-the-radar eco brands are sprouting up all around the world, from the U.K. to Australia to places across the United States. Their businesses may be small, but their mission is huge: to change the landscape of fashion toward one that’s entirely sustainable. After all, the American fashion industry is one of the biggest producers of waste in the world, with its creations contributing to an average of 25 billion pounds of textiles produced per year (including clothing, shoes, and home goods). That’s 82 pounds per U.S. resident — 85 percent of which ends up in landfills.
Below are the stories of four inspiring green fashion designers who are tackling the problem head-on through their sustainable collections. Each designer uniquely incorporates materials that can be found in one’s home — floorboards, carpet fluff, fruit fibers derived from pineapples and coconuts, and, yes, even your kitchen sink!
Founder: Katie Johnston
Based: Noosa, Australia
EcoBling founder Katie Johnston spent the first 12 years of her life on a small farm in an Australian town populated by about 80 people, where her entire class, consisting of six kids, could fit around one small table. She soon fell in love with art and fashion and wanted to make it her career, but first she took time to travel and explore, soon working in community development. That’s where she became passionate about social and environmental causes; and she decided to fuse her passions, by upcycling everyday household items into beautiful, minimalist-style jewelry. After all, she says, “we need to embed sustainable choices in every aspect of our lives, including our wardrobe.” Through EcoBling, Johnston has so far reused two tons of waste, funded conservation projects, and planted 20,000 trees in African forests.
Household materials used in EcoBling: Kitchen sinks, floorboards, broken tables and chairs, bricks, fences, hardwood off-cuts from kitchen cabinet makers, wine bottles, windows, jars.
Advice for new green fashion designers: “If you must use new textiles and materials, go organic. If you’re producing overseas, make it fair trade. And pay fair wages, always.”
Founder: Diana Auria
Focus: Women’s swimwear
Diana Auria studied fashion, with a focus on lingerie and swimwear. Now her current line, Auria, is swimwear made from Econyl (a sustainable nylon from old fishing nets) and regenerated carpet fluff. “As a fashion designer, I don’t want to add to this [pollution] problem,” she tells Yahoo Style. “I think it is really important to think about fashion as something that should fit in with our ecosystem.” Her efforts have not gone unnoticed, as she’s part of Selfridges’ “Bright New Things” program, which highlights innovative, sustainable designers through a three-month window display at the famed London-based department store. Auria has also worked with Sony to design a “H.ear capsule travel collection,” including beach slides and bags made of discarded headphones. Another feather in her cap: Her designs have been worn by none other than the fur-loving Rihanna. Perhaps it could help her see the eco-conscious light?
Household materials used in Auria: Carpet fluff, fishing nets (Econyl).
Advice for new green fashion designers: “Go onto fashionrevolution.org and get involved! This organization has been making global movements and making positive changes to the fashion industry for the last four years. They are my daily inspiration.”
Founder: Sydney Brown
Based: Porto, Portugal
Focus: Men’s and women’s footwear
Though Sydney Brown was born and raised in the U.S., she’s currently based in Porto, Portugal. Her background spans studies in French, design, and spiritual psychology, and she spent the first decade of her career in Tokyo, where she co-created electronic music festival Taico Club. It was in Japan where she honed her design skills, which led to the start of her namesake vegan footwear line in 2011. “The fashion industry is the second-largest global polluter after big oil,” she explains to Yahoo Style about her inspiration. “The environmental ramifications of this are unconscionable. To create more ‘stuff’ in the world in itself is so loaded, so it is absolutely necessary to produce as environmentally and socially soundly as possible.”
Household materials used in Sydney Brown: German beechwood, cork, pineapple fibers, coconut fibers, corn (coming soon in the Fall/Winter 2018 collection), organic cotton.
Advice for new green fashion designers: “The most important point is that sustainability is a process. To be ‘completely sustainable’ isn’t possible — it is an ongoing evolution. With each collection, you can improve. Begin with tracing the supply chain. Where are the fibers being grown or produced, who is working on them, what is the process, what are the working conditions? The more conscious you become in all aspects of the design and production, the closer you can get to sustainability.”
Founder: Kristen Luong
Based: New York City
Focus: Men’s and women’s apparel
Kristen Luong is a New York-based designer who studied design at the Fashion Institute of Technology, where she spent time working with and learning from big-name brands like Derek Lam and Zac Posen. Soon after graduating, she launched her brand, Kromagnon — based on the Cro-Magnon, the earliest of modern humans to use techniques such as sewing, weaving, and tanning in daily life. Kromagnon aims to be a modern interpretation of this, using organic, sustainable materials and practices. To that end, Luong is one of the few fashion designers to produce everything in New York City — which does, of course, play into the higher costs of her garments, ranging from $500 to $1,000 and up. But Luong is not about fast fashion, she tells Yahoo Style, explaining that she felt it was important to “keep our local Garment Center alive, and to keep the tradition of made-in-America goods.”
Household materials used in Kromagnon: Copper, corozo nuts (the seed of the South American tagua palm), plastic bottles, paper, wood, organic cotton.
Advice for new green fashion designers: “I encourage any designer who would like to enter the eco-fashion space to do their own research into what materials fit them the best. There is a lot of ‘greenwashing’ in the industry … so some materials are not as eco as they would seem or have deemed to be.” Additionally, she encourages designers to “pay special attention to the entire process … think about how garments will end up once they leave the consumer’s hands.”
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